“in reading the Scriptures we should constantly direct our inquiries and meditations to those things which tend to edification, not indulge in curiosity, or in studying things of no use. And since the Lord has been pleased to instruct us, not in frivolous questions, but in solid piety, in the fear of his name, in true faith, and the duties of holiness, let us rest satisfied with such knowledge.”
– John Calvin¹
I enjoy doing question and answer sessions. Not because I feel I have superior knowledge–I don’t–but rather because it is a chance to think critically and biblically about questions many people have. It is also a chance to discuss, agree, and disagree with one another without hostility (hopefully).
There is a danger to Q&A times: we start to define our theology more by “what if” than “what is.” There are many questions we have concerning God and concerning the background or historical circumstances of Bible stories that we simply don’t have a clear cut answer to. And though it can be fun to speculate, and it can drive us to study the Bible more in depth, there is a healthy time to be content with this answer: “I just don’t know.” It can be tempting to speculate, and then present your theories as truth. Though some theories can seem viable, if the Bible isn’t clear, we have to admit it is just a theory, and more importantly, we need to be willing to be wrong or be disagreed with. This should then drive us to study and theorize appropriately, but make sure that we devote the majority of our time, and the to the things that are clear in Scripture, or as Calvin wrote in the quote above, “in reading the Scriptures we should constantly direct our inquiries and meditations to those things which tend to edification.”
Consider this classic question: What is Paul’s “thorn in the flesh?”
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
I wonder what this “thorn in the flesh” was. A messenger from Satan? What does that mean? We could do a great deal of speculating. It could be an illness, a disability, or even a mental or psychological disturbance. I think a good case can be made that it was some sort of painful partial blindness–but I could be wrong. But here is the truth: we just don’t know.
Here is the important thing: It really doesn’t matter what Paul’s thorn was–what matters is the lesson God was teaching Paul (and us) that in our weakness, then Christ is shown to be strong. That we ought not to let our weakness cripple us, but rather they ought to empower us, because it is an opportunity to experience and display the power of Jesus Christ.
And in this example, like many others, we can focus on what is most important and most significant, or we can speculate on other things, but we must be content with the knowledge we have–because in that knowledge we are edified.
¹ Calvin, John, and Henry Beveridge trans. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993. p. 144